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The “new normal” of language interpretation services

As the pandemic nears its end, it has changed the translation and interpretation industry drastically, forcing businesses to rapidly adapt to digital technology to reduce disruption to their day-to-day business operations. These business model and process modifications then slowly required fewer face-to-face interactions and smarter solutions, especially for the interpretation industry, evolving to what we see today as the new normal of language services. 

According to research by the New Royal Mail, 71% of British firms claimed to have changed their business model in response to the coronavirus crisis. The need to adapt to this new normal has been consistent among companies of all sizes across all industries. In fact, half of these businesses believe that the changes they’ve made will serve as long-term solutions. A quarter of these companies even believe that the changes will be permanent, significantly impacting these businesses.   

However, this creation of business models with short-term survival and long-term resilience to add more value for customers has not been easy for everyone. Some services like Shuttl in India struggled to follow market demands, despite having enough resources. They chose not to pivot their business model, which resulted in cutting their lifeline shorter.   

Demand during the pandemic

It’s no secret that the language industry and its professionals across the globe started to experience fallout at the onset of the pandemic. We have interpreters even making a joint appeal to request support for their 5,000 language professionals. During this crisis, they reported a loss of EUR 10 million within a month. Interpreters who work face-to-face have been hit the hardest by the quarantine mandates with the indefinite cancelation of events, conferences, and meetings.  

According to CSA Research, LSPs reported that demand for language services related to the travel and leisure vertical markets plummeted to 88% following the pandemic. However, CSA Research also notably reported that the demand for language services and technology changed significantly in the health-care industry during that period with a 64% increase, creating diverse opportunities to allow interpreters to still work despite the many limitations. 

Figure 1. Graph of the percentage of respondents that indicates the decrease in the demand for translation services by the COVID-19 LSP Survey 3 Data: Overall Results (csa-research.com).
Figure 2. Graph of the percentage of respondents that indicates the increase in the demand for language services by the COVID-19 LSP Survey 3 Data: Overall Results (csa-research.com).

Interpretation in the Medical Field

Even before the pandemic hit, medical interpretation was already a difficult job for most medical professionals because it is highly specialized, intricate, and, more often than not, would require a second opinion from an actual linguistic expert. In addition, researchers have found that patients who don’t have access to an interpreter are more likely to stay and be readmitted to the hospital. This happened in the case of 18-year-old Willie Ramirez, who was misdiagnosed because of a translation error. For most of us, “intoxicado” and “intoxicated” may sound similar, but they are words apart in meaning (pun intended). Among Cubans, the meaning of “intoxicado” means that something—most likely, food—has made you sick. For the case of Ramirez, however, doctors misunderstood “intoxicado” to mean intoxicated, and he was then treated for a drug overdose. At the time, the hospital didn’t have a computed tomography scanner to confirm the diagnosis, and most teenagers admitted to the emergency room were either from car crashes or drug overdoses. Here, Ramirez’s doctor mostly relied on his experience to draw his conclusion from. If the hospital only thought of confirming the term with an actual interpreter, they wouldn’t now be liable for USD 71 million in damages.  

Ramirez’s case is evidence that shows how significant the roles of interpreters are for patients and doctors alike with limited language skills. Interpretation done by experts is needed for medical personnel to navigate treatments and explore health-care system approaches.  

Interpretation services at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

As a response, remote interpretation has skyrocketed and caused companies that already welcomed the service interpretation to thrive. This even led some LSPs to actively encourage more employees to work from home while using videoconferencing and online interpretations to resemble a sense of “normality.” Today, the “new normal” has led to companies already extending their work-from-home office policy with an optional no-travel policy, having important client meetings via Zoom, implementing cloud-based systems and storage, and many more. 

Following these changes, businesses shifted to other domains such as remote simultaneous interpreting, where interpreters are located remotely. Participants in this event can choose their preferred language and use their own devices—be it smartphones or desktops. RSI was often considered a lesser alternative even before the pandemic happened, but because of the crisis, businesses had to give it a chance as an alternative to the traditional face-to-face setup. This allowed events to be held virtually or following a less demanding, hybrid setup. 

Building new habits with online platforms for the language industry

A thorough transformation of the company is vital for its survival. Navigating through this challenge and ensuing recession for businesses has been a goal for most organizations, and it has been successful for companies like Spotify by pivoting their business models. Taking corrective action can enable companies to survive catastrophic events they might encounter. As the global pandemic hit and changed the world irrevocably, businesses, especially in the language industry, were forced to create new habits. This led to the transition from brick-and-mortar to online and digital, with 53% of adults “likely” or “very likely” to continue with their digital habits following the pandemic. 

Businesses like Ascension Seton, launched a tool that allows its interpreters to use phone or video conferencing to assist patients and doctors, making sure that health care is accessible to a variety of languages in hospitals and about 200 clinics in Central Texas. Brooke Coleman, the Network Language Access Manager, reiterated that this global crisis had forced their team to rethink their current model and enable their interpreters to be available for virtual translations 24/7.  

“We’re able to continue to provide that same support, even where the [the patient is] physically there, we’re also there virtually at the same time, so it’s a great hybrid,”

LSPs had to find ways to modify their operations and keep up with the changing demands and buyer behavior. Their interpreters had to learn, change, and adapt to having a work-from-home setup. Video conferencing and virtual meetings became the most important methods of communicating during this pandemic, and they allowed businesses to understand one another, even when they stayed in the comfort of their own homes. As technology progresses and as we enter the “new normal,” remote language services will continue to meet demands and will be sure to stay.  

Transition to online

Technology has made the lives of professional interpreters much easier, and they can now work more efficiently than before. This does not only benefit the interpreter but the client as well, as it is easier and hassle-free to get an interpreter on-demand when you need them, improving accessibility for remote language services. An additional benefit for online language service providers is that they can widen their reach with a larger client base. Clients and service providers are no longer bound by location, therefore opening an avenue for business transactions to suffice. Lastly, using online services can lower the cost for both service providers and customers as it can eliminate travel expenses. 

Along with the changing behavior and demands, eQQui, Lexcode’s interpretation arm, continues to make events inclusive, even with a global crisis. eQQui’s interpretation services successfully transitioned into the virtual realm with its adaptive technology. Services like Remote Simultaneous Interpretation, Remote Consecutive Interpretation, Zoom On-Demand Interpretation, and Over-the-Phone Interpretation, where you can acquire interpretation services on demand, are some of the services offered to keep up with necessary changes during the quarantine period; and as restrictions lighten up, eQQui has now gradually gotten back to offering face-to-face interpretation services, starting with small meetings to huge conferences. 

As business shift their approach to the market in this “new normal,” interpretation services continues to press on with their interpreters making use of new skills like remote interpreting for business continuity.  With Lexcode’s persistence and resilience, we have adapted with recent demands and created a platform for all our interpreters to create affordable, hassle-free, and flexible Interpretation service and opportunities for our clients and interpreters alike. Book a demo or meet with us to understand better our services further by sending an email to [email protected].